Tuesday, December 31, 2013

45 New Hikes for 2013!

As 2013 draws to a close, I wanted to do a reflection post on how much the Lord has blessed me on the trail this year.  I hiked 45 new trails, eclipsing my previous record of 44 set just last year.  Those 45 hikes came from 11 different states, including 1 new state (New York).  I also upgraded more than 50 of my old hikes by adding new pics.  Overall, it has been a fantastic year.

Looking forward to 2014, I plan to take a couple of months off of the trail to alleviate some problems I am having with my feet.  Later this year, I hope to get back to the Western USA again; I haven't been west of Minnesota since 2011.  I also plan to focus on expanding my reach here in the Carolinas and upgrading more of my old entries.

See you on the trail in 2014!

David, aka The Mathprofhiker

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Barnwell State Park (Blog Hike #454)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Barnwell State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Barnwell, SC
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A short loop around the park’s lake with numerous boardwalks.

Directions to the trailhead: From Barnwell, drive SR 3 north 7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Bear right at the first intersection and park in the medium sized parking lot in front of the park office.

The hike: Established in 1937, 307-acre Barnwell State Park is one of the 16 South Carolina State Parks that were built by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Several of the CCC’s constructions are still in use today, including two picnic shelters and the unusual tiered spillway at the dam that creates the park’s main lake.  Whether you love or hate the CCC, they built things to last.
            Barnwell State Park contains only one hiking trail, a short 1.3 mile nature trail that circumnavigates the park’s main lake.  The trail is not blazed, but it is wide and easy to follow.  While probably not a hiking destination by itself, this park makes a nice add-on to the end of your hiking day.  I came here under exactly those circumstances, squeezing this hike into the last daylight hour of a mild winter day.  Thus, my tour around this lake was quick but pleasant nonetheless.
Start of Nature Trail
            Start by walking to the right of the park office and heading through a gap in a short wooden fence.  This hike circumnavigates the lake counterclockwise, so the lake will be to your left the entire time.  The largest trees in the lakeside forest are loblolly pines, but some live oak and other deciduous trees live in the dense, green understory.
            At 0.1 miles, you pass behind the park’s meeting house where a grassy area gives a fabulous view across the lake.  The long late evening shadows that stretched over the tranquil lake made a perfect picture on my visit.  Back in the forest, some wooden boardwalks take you over some wet areas.
Looking across park lake
            0.3 miles from the trailhead, you reach a small pond that does not appear on the park map.  You could short-cut the loop by turning left and walking across the dam that forms this pond, but the official trail stays to the right to pass a small pondside picnic area.  After another short stint in the forest, you reach a dirt park maintenance road where you should turn left to cross a larger dam.  On the south side of the dam, turn left again to begin the journey down the south side of the lake.
            The trail meanders left and right but never strays more than 30 feet from the lake shore.  Some red interpretive plaques help you identify some of the trees in the lakeside forest.  At 0.7 miles, a picnic shelter appears uphill to the right as a pier extends out into the lake to the left.  My quick journey out the pier allowed me to see a trio of geese in the shallow water near the lake shore.  Note that the ground near the pier can be muddy even if the rest of the trail is dry.
Boardwalk across wet area
            Past the pier, the trail crosses another long wooden boardwalk, and at 1.1 miles you reach the dam that forms the main park lake.  You can walk out the earthen dam to view the spillway and the lake, but the trail does not cross the dam.  Instead, the trail joins the paved park road and curves left to cross the lake’s outlet creek on the park road bridge.  The turn onto the park road is not marked, nor is it clear on the park map, so pay attention at this point in the hike.
Starting final segment of trail
            Immediately after crossing the park road bridge, the trail turns left to leave the park road and begin the final segment back to the park office.  This segment consists of another boardwalk and some stone steps that give a good view of the unusual spillway.  The steps end behind the park office, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Magnolia Springs State Park: Fort Lawton Historic Trail (Blog Hike #453)

Trail: Fort Lawton Historic Trail
Hike Location: Magnolia Springs State Park
Geographic Location: north of Millen, GA
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A short nature trail with good wildlife viewing opportunities and the site of a Confederate POW camp.

Directions to the trailhead: Magnolia Springs State Park is located on US 25 5 miles north of Millen.  Enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and park in the Visitor Center parking area.  The trail starts at a large kiosk across the main park road.

The hike: For my general comments on Magnolia Springs State Park, see the previous hike.  This hike explores the site of Camp Lawton, a Civil War prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.  The prison was constructed between August 5 and November 25, 1864 to relieve overcrowding at the Confederacy’s Andersonville POW camp some 150 miles to the west.  Confederate General John Winder chose this site due to its location near Magnolia Spring for its abundant drinking water, near the Augusta Savannah Railroad for its ease of access to drop off new prisoners, and beside a small hill that provided good, high ground for gun batteries to protect the prison.  The prison lasted less than 2 months before General Sherman’s infamous march forced its evacuation, but during its existence it became the Confederates’ largest POW camp, housing over 10,000 captured Union soldiers.
            POW camps are never friendly confines, but during the Civil War they were especially gruesome.  Of every 4 enemy soldiers that walked in, only 3 walked out; the others died of starvation, exposure, disease, or injury.  Interpretive signs bring the camp’s story to life, and on-going archaeological digs continue to unearth remnants of this time.  For example, in 2010 a team from Georgia Southern University unearthed a stockade wall and personal items from soldiers in one of the most significant archaeological finds in recent history.
Information kiosk at trailhead
            Begin your tour of the prison site by crossing the main park road at a marked crosswalk and reading the numerous signs on the large information kiosk.  After learning about the prison, walk uphill along the edge of the woods to begin hiking the Fort Lawton Historic Trail clockwise.  As you climb gradually, look for animal tracks in the soft sandy soil for clues as to what creatures have been here recently.
            At 0.1 miles, you reach the breastworks, all that remains of the prison structures.  The prison had a redoubt construction, meaning that is was enclosed by breastworks on all sides.  Imagine being a captured soldier living in a tent on these grounds, exposed to the elements.
Breastworks at former prison site
            Past the breastworks, the trail heads into the woods and soon comes to the earthworks that housed the gun batteries.  Now near the south park boundary, the trail curves right to pass the highest point on this hike, then curves right again as US 25 can be heard through the trees to the left.
            At 0.4 miles, the trail exits the woods atop a bluff that overlooks the park road and Spring Mill Branch.  Two more interpretive signs and a bench are also located here.  The trail is somewhat undefined from here, but you should walk downhill, cross the park road, and angle left through a gap in a wooden fence.  You are heading for a brown carsonite post in the left corner of a meadow beside the creek.
Hiking through the woods
            From the carsonite post, the remainder of the Fort Lawton Historic Trail parallels the creek, heading upstream.  What has thus far been a history-oriented hike turns into an excellent wildlife observation hike, as Spring Mill Branch’s clear waters teem with wildlife.  On my visit fish swam up and down the creek, some tadpoles were squirming into the water, and some turtles plopped into the water off of an old pier structure on which they were sunning.  One fish squirmed in the jaws of a blue heron that had just caught itself dinner.  A snowy egret sat quietly on a log to observe the whole scene.
Turtles on old pier structure
            I could have spent the entire afternoon beside the creek watching wildlife, but other trails beckoned.  When you manage to tear yourself away from the wildlife show, walk slightly uphill beside the Visitor Center to the Visitor Center parking lot, thus completing the hike.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Magnolia Springs State Park: Sink/Lake/Spring Loop (Blog Hike #452)

Trails: Lime Sink, Beaver, and Woodpecker Trails
Hike Location: Magnolia Springs State Park
Geographic Location: north of Millen, GA
Length: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A “grand tour” loop featuring a sink, a lake, and a spring.

Directions to the trailhead: Magnolia Springs State Park is located on US 25 5 miles north of Millen.  Enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and bear right on the signed road for Picnic Area #7 and the playground.  Park in the small blacktop parking area near the playground.

The hike: Located an hour south of Augusta, 1070-acre Magnolia Springs State Park centers around the park’s namesake spring.  The 7 million gallons of clear 67-degree water that spew from the spring each day have drawn visitors here for centuries.  During the Civil War, some of those visitors were Union soldiers who were placed in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp located just uphill from the spring.
            The camp withstanding, most people who come to Magnolia Spring come of their own free will.  Before it became a state park, the spring area comprised a privately-owned recreation retreat, and a fish hatchery was established on adjacent land.  The state park was created in 1939 after a 15-year effort by local citizens to establish a state park on this site.  Shortly thereafter, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built some facilities here.  Park facilities today include a 28 site campground, 8 cottages, 8 picnic shelters, and a playground.
            For hikers, Magnolia Springs State Park is somewhat of a general store: it contains a little of everything without a lot of anything.  The front part of the park contains the historic POW camp site; it is featured in the next hike.  This hike takes you on a grand tour of the park’s interior, which includes a sinkhole, Magnolia Lake, and the spring that makes this park famous.
Trailhead: Lime Sink Trail
            Start your tour by picking up the Lime Sink Trail, which begins at a wooden portal between the playground and the restroom building.  The Lime Sink Trail is the park’s newest trail, so the treadway is not as firmly packed as on most trails.  Keep an eye on the blue paint blazes to avoid getting lost.
            At 0.15 miles, the trail joins an old dirt road, heading almost due east.  If you look to the left at this juncture, you will see the sink for which this trail is named.  Sinks form when water erodes the limestone bedrock roof of a cave, thus causing it to collapse.  The implosion leaves a large depression on the surface such as the one you see here.  This sink appears to be dry, but deeper sinks fall below the water table and thus partially fill with water.
Joining the old road
            The trail follows the old road for a few hundred feet before turning left to exit the roadbed just before reaching an area of the park that was logged recently.  At 0.4 miles, you pass through an area with numerous downed trees.  The largest trees in this forest are loblolly pines, but a few red cedars and broadleaf trees populate the understory.
            0.7 miles into the hike, an unmarked spur trail exits left to the campground.  Keep with the blue blazes by staying right.  An active rail line sits just to the right of this section of trail, but I only heard one train pass by during my 2 hour visit here.  At 1 mile, you reach the north end of the Lime Sink Trail and an intersection with the white-blazed Beaver Trail.  As instructed by a directional sign, turn right here to head for the observation deck, the highlight of the Beaver Trail.
            The firmly packed dirt Beaver Trail descends gradually as it curves left.  A few old wooden benches provide rest for the weary.  At 1.4 miles, you reach a wooden observation deck perched on the upper reaches of Magnolia Lake.  Thick brush prevents any long-distance views, but I did see some songbirds including a chickadee and a sparrow in the brush.  Two hawks were gliding over the group camp located across the lake.  Some benches here allow you to rest and observe the lake.
View from observation deck; Magnolia Lake
            Past the observation deck, the trail parallels the lake’s east shore, heading downstream.  Keep your eyes to the right so as not to miss any wildlife on the lake.  My approach sent a trio of geese into running take-off mode across the water.   At 1.9 miles, the other arm of the Beaver Trail comes in from the left.  Just past this intersection, you cross a boardwalk over an inlet of Magnolia Lake.
Crossing the boardwalk
            After crossing the boardwalk, you come out at a bank fishing area near the campground.  To continue, climb the hill to the left and take a soft right to begin walking out the main park road.  Note that a hard right here would take you across the dam to the group camp.  To pick up the Woodpecker Trail, the last leg of this hike, pass the last park cottage (Cottage #5) and look for a yellow paint blaze on a tree to the right just before you reach a speed bump in the road.  Turn right to leave the road and begin the spur of the Woodpecker Trail.
Yellow blaze announcing spur to Woodpecker Trail
            The spur trail descends gradually and soon meets the red-blazed Woodpecker Trail proper, where you should continue straight.  Marshy Spring Mill Branch comes into view as the trail curves left to parallel the creek downstream.  Just short of 3 miles into the hike, the trail forks.  Take the trail going right to quickly arrive at the boardwalk that overlooks Magnolia Spring.
Hiking near Spring Mill Branch
            Magnolia Spring is not the largest spring I have ever seen, but it is one of the prettiest.  Obvious ripples in the pool mark where water emerges, and the dull grey mud contrasts nicely with the clear to light blue water.  Some Spanish moss draped trees frame the setting perfectly.
Magnolia Spring
            The Woodpecker Trail ends at the parking lot beside Magnolia Spring, so the balance of the hike is a park road walk back to your car.  Angle left and walk uphill through the picnic area.  Pass the campground dump station to reach the parking area beside the playground, thus completing the hike.